I remember watching the pageant on my stomach on the carpet: One of my favorite events of the year. The talent portion, the interview, the evening gown. Your ideal, they sang. And sure enough–girls around the nation wondered just like I did: Could I ever do that?

Though four kids later, I no longer aspire to Miss America–sometimes I just aspire to get the dishwasher unloaded, satisfy my clients, keep the house from burning down–it just got a lot easier.

This past Tuesday, the Miss America competition ousted their swimsuit competition for the first time since the first contest on the Atlantic City boardwalk in 1921. The competition’s new director, Gretchen Carlson, has become synonymous with the takedown of her former boss at Fox news, the notorious Roger Ailes, for his decades of sexual harassment of women on staff.

The New York Times reports that in giving the ax to the swimsuit competition, Miss America moves toward redefining the competition’s “role in an era of female empowerment and gender equality,” a critical response to the #metoo movement. Carlson remarks to the Times, “I’ve talked to tons of young people who’ve said to me, ‘I’d love to be a part of that program, but I don’t want to parade around in a swimsuit.’”

I’m not what they’re looking for

Another personal memory I still turn over in my mind: my senior drama final. Much to my surprise (and probably everyone else’s), I aced it. My teacher approached me after class. “You should consider pursuing this.” I was 17. I hope I didn’t actually snort out loud.

“Have you seen what you need to look like to be an actress? Trust me,” I said quietly. “I’m not what they’re looking for.”

Funny thing is, we women play the game just as much as men. Don’t we define others–even ourselves–by our ability to meet the invisible, Barbie-doll standards of our age? Aren’t we investing a sizeable portion of our income to making sure our hair and teeth are the proper shades, our eyelashes are the proper lengths, our waists are the proper sizes, our skin contains the proper hydration?

Focus on the physical

Author and pastor’s wife Melissa Edgington comments on the tremendous media and public focus on the bride’s physical appearance in the recent royal wedding. Edgington comments in her post “Maybe Women are Some of the Worst Offenders.”

We are just as quick to reduce a woman to her dress size or bra size as any man. This sickness goes well beyond the males of our species….

Let us remember that all women are as real and deep and beautiful as a tender thirteen year old in her brand new braces, smiling at us with a hint of hope, vulnerable. What will we do with this woman’s soul? I pray we won’t cast it aside in favor of discussing all of the details of her body. What a waste. What a crime. What a devastating reduction of what God has so fearfully and wonderfully made.

God called His creation good

I like author Lauren Winner’s reflections, which she comically drapes around a narrative of her not fitting in a medium-sized sweater at a boutique. It was not, she notes, the type of store to carry a large.

“Ah, well,” she quips upon exit. “Think of the $182 I just saved, thanks to my hips, which were designed to have babies.” And she begins to cry. She remarks,

This shopping expedition is good proof that, though I believe God has something to say about human bodies, I generally listen to Cosmopolitan instead. I’m pretty sure that God, if He called me to chat about my body, would say things like, “I like your body. I created your body, and if you have read the first chapter of Genesis lately, you might recall that I called Creation good.”

….This desire to diet is…bad faith, for the biblical story of the body is very different from the stories Cosmo and Maxim tell. The magazines (and movies, TV shows, and advertising campaigns) speak of bodies that are both too important and not important at all. Scripture speaks of bodies that God created in His image, bodies that are doing both redemptive work and being redeemed.1

I wonder. How much of my life have I squandered not on mere diligent nurture for this gift He gave me—but rather in treasures vaporizing before me in wisps of a few decades?

Could they have consumed a piece of my heart with it?

What if?

What if Carlson–and other change-makers around the globe–can redefine the ideal for our daughters…and even our sons?

Perhaps the elimination of a swimsuit competition can sketch a giant think bubble of “what if?” before all of us.

What if my daughter were celebrated for the restraint of modesty…and for who God created her to be?

What if she lived in a culture that valued her spirit and not her shape?

What if she saw herself this way?

What if I did?

(Oh. There she is.)

Perhaps our sons, too, have a better chance of developing as young men of integrity–where filtering a woman down to her external accoutrements and the geometric shape of body parts is actually discouraged.

Let’s dream

Could the rest of culture take a hard look at the way women are portrayed in our music videos? Our magazines? Our theaters? Could it spur on conversations with them about a woman’s worth being measured in something other than 36-24-36?

And let’s dream big while we’re at it. Could pornography be exposed for the soulless, imitative, dehumanizing industry it is?

Brava, Miss America, for eliminating a bit of the external from the ideal. And let’s not stop there. What does it look like for each of us to disregard the bigger “swimsuit competition” far deeper within?

1 Winner, Lauren. Mudhouse Sabbath: An Invitation to a Life of Spiritual Discipline.Brewster, Massachusetts: Paraclete Press (2007).

Copyright © 2018 by Janel Breitenstein. Used with permission.